. . . cannot be hid. Or so says Dorothy L Sayers in Gaudy Night. I was all set to write about the blessed Dorothy today on account of just having received a set of re-issued Wimsey books from Hodder and Stoughton in London. (This is most of them; four are reprinting.)
Then I noticed the date and thought I'd probably better blog about lerrrrrve. But then - two birds, one stone - I happen to think DLS is the most romantic crimewriter and Harriet and Peter are the most romantic crime solving duo.
They meet In Strong Poison in a scene with one of the most English proposals ever:
Peter: Oh well - I thought you'd be rather an attractive person to marry. That's all. I mean, I sort of took a fancy to you. I can't tell you why. There's no rule about it, you know.
Harriet: I see. Well, it's very nice of you.
She turns him down. Then they meet again in Have His Carcase, for another soaring proposal scene:
Harriet: Where did you come from?
Peter: From London. Like a bird that hears the call of its mate.
Harriet: I didn't-
Peter: I meant the corpse. But still, talking of mates, will you marry me?
Harriet: Certainly not.
Peter: I thought not . . .
In Gaudy Night, they've got the format down to the absolute basics:
Peter: I take it, Harriet, that you have no new answer to give me?
Harriet: No, Peter. I'm sorry, but I can't say anything else.
Peter: All right. Don't worry. I'll try not to be a nuisance.
So far you'd be forgiven for wondering if I know what the word "romantic" actually means. But! Then comes the scene in the punt. Peter is reading case notes and Harriet finds herself studying his face:
It was by this time tolerably familiar to her, but now she saw the details, magnified as it were by some glass in her own mind. The flat setting and fine scroll-work of the ear, and the height of the skull above it. The glitter of close-cropped hair where the neck muscles lifted to meet the head. A minute sickle-shaped scar on the left temple. The faint laughter-lines at the corner of the eye and the droop of the lid at its outer end. The gleam of golden down on the cheek-bone. The wide spring of the nostril. And almost imperceptible beading of sweat of the upper lip and a tiny muscle that twitched the sensitive corner of the mouth. The slight sun-reddening of the fair skin and its sudden whiteness below the base of the throat. The little hollow above the points of the collar-bone.
He looked up; and she was instantly scarlet, as though she had been dipped in boiling water. Through the confusion of her darkened eyes and drumming ears some enormous bulk seemed to stoop over her. Then the mist cleared. His eyes were riveted upon the manuscript again, but he breathed as though he had been running.
So, thought Harriet, it has happened.
If you don't find that swoon-some, maybe check your pulse.
Busman's Honeymoon is technically a detective novel, but there's more romance in it than in some romances. They marry - claiming one another in splendid triumph - they spend an entirely satisfactory wedding night together - behind the lightest of gauze curtains - they spar, they canoodle, they murmur sweet nothings (mostly literary quotations) and generally act like the smuggest smug-marrieds you've ever rolled your eyes about at a dinner party. But there are quiet moments of true communion that would melt the stoniest heart and still the rolliest eyes.
Peter: ... I've always been alone.
Harriet: Yes, of course. I'm like that too. I like to crawl away and hide in a corner.
Peter: Well, you're my corner and I've come to hide.
I've loved all the Wimsey books for a long time, as my original collection shows:
I love the early ones pre-Harriet as well as these four. The plots are ingenious, the settings rock-solid and there are laughs a-plenty. (I like the bit in Have His Carcase when Peter asks if Harriet isn't perhaps displaying what he calls "a certain coarsening of the fibres" in inviting press attention instead of fleeing from it as she used to. "Obviously,' said Harriet. "My fibres at this moment resemble coconut matting." Makes me giggle every time.) But what I adore most of all is this awkward, stumbling, complicated, emerging relationship between equals.
That's why, when I was asked to join the chorus giving voice to our love of Dorothy and write an introduction for one of the volumes, I knew which one I wanted. Not my overall favourite - The Nine Tailors - or the one set where I used to live - The Five Red Herrings - or the masterpiece - Gaudy Night. Nope, I wanted to write the introduction to the last and shortest collection of Wimsey stories, published after Dorothy's death as Striding Folly.
And that's because in the final story of all, "Talboys", we get to see Harriet and Peter awkward no more, stumble-free, uncomplicated, and loving every minute of their life. I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with my choice of most romantic crime-solvers? Or who do you reckon should get the prize? Happy Valentine's Day!